Codependency often boils down to an over focus on others and an under focus on ourselves. We can be extremely good at knowing what someone else is feeling or needing.
Many of us are very tuned into other peoples’ wants. And we can easily meet the needs of other people... Yet we don’t know what WE feel or want. And if we do, we can feel confused and don’t know what to do about it. And many of us have never taken responsibility for our emotional self and our deepest desires.
This is self-abandonment – You know, what we are most scared of others doing to us? Yep, we do it to ourselves all the time.
Taking responsibility for ourselves and our own needs is the most powerful of all self-care skills. I challenge my clients to tend to their own needs with the same passion and go-to-any-lengths attitude they would if it was for a loved one.
When I worked in a treatment centre at the beginning of my career, I had an interest in Family Therapy, so I would not only work with the patients receiving treatment, I would also assist with the family group that took place in the evening. After a while I noticed the stark contrast between the inpatients & their visiting family members.
All day long I’d listen to the patients share about their lives - their drug-use, depression, bankruptcy, eating disorders, infidelities, and fears. They spoke of their families too, but it was one subject among a great many others.
Then in the evening, I listened to the family members. And they spoke of one thing and one thing only... their loved one in treatment.
When we asked them how they were feeling, they would tell us how their sister/husband/son in treatment was doing. When we asked them what they needed during this difficult time, they looked confused. Their only other interest, other than talking about their loved one, was *answers*. They asked so many questions: What can I do about __? How can I get him to take his medication? What should I do when she comes home?
Of course, they were worried and wanted to do everything and anything they could to help their beloved. We would all feel that way. But some of these family members were also obsessed. They were fixated. They had lost themselves somewhere along the line.
The work of the family group was to instil the idea that they themselves were going through a tough time, to recognise they too were struggling & they also deserved care and support, so their entire life & focus didn’t become about someone else.
When we have co-dependency issues we are in danger of losing ourselves. Our focus very unconsciously, but very conclusively, shifts to ‘the other’.
We are hyper aware of what they feel, want, need and prefer. And we become less aware of what we feel, want, need or prefer. In our minds it genuinely matters less.
And so our social circle can decrease. Our lives start to merge with ‘their’ life. We don’t want to ask for things. Make waves. Or be an imposition. So our voices get very quiet indeed.
In the call of the wild, the co-dependent will pick up and hear the need for another’s protection like a lion responding to an injured cub. Codependents both attract and are drawn to those in need of help or protection. In many ways this is what the co-dependent has been ‘trained’ to do: to see to others. To look after, rescue, protect and/or fix. We think it is our life’s purpose.
So we are very sensitive to others’ needs. It is a sixth sense we have. And people in need seem to know to come to us. Codependents feel comfortable giving. Being kind, generous, supportive and loving are wonderful and admirable traits. Those are not the same as codependency.
Codependency happens when from our own fear and wounding, we believe our role in people’s lives is to look after them, always be available to everyone all the time, and pretzel ourselves to fit with what others want and need. Our unconscious motivation is not to be kind and considerate, it is actually to be liked, loved and depended upon so we feel safe and secure in the relationship.
Learning to receive for a codependent is a beautiful but difficult part of recovery. Accepting support and love is sometimes surprisingly hard.
We have become so accustomed to seeing to other people, and even though it’s what we so desperately crave, receiving love and having the focus on us can feel jarring.
Oftentimes we are more comfortable with something we don’t fully realise, and that is a degree of deprival, lack and neglect. This might be familiar to us and part of our script or story.
Desensitising to both wanting and accepting love and care is what will truly heal those primary wounds.
Codependency recovery challenges us to first and foremost look after ourselves. Our will-do-anything attitude towards others is often surprisingly difficult to use on ourselves. But we must develop this. And sometimes this means letting others fend for themselves by learning to say 'No'. It also teaches us appropriate attitudes to take to the relationship. An equality and a balance.
And we return our focus back to ourselves. We have needs too. And we have a voice. And we work hard not to forget that...